March 13, 2003

March Madness

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Best Picture of the Year

Gonna Win: The Academy will be reluctant to bestow the award upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale, just as they were hesitant last year, when they preferred the more profound A Beautiful Mind. The Hours, though graceful with high caliber acting, may be too one-dimensional. Meanwhile, Gangs of New York will suffer from the widespread publicity of its flaws, and The Pianist will suffer from a lack of marketing. The winner this year will be the energetic Chicago, which cleverly tells the story of two nightclub dreamers while intertwining the plot with enlivening musical performances.

Should Win: The Pianist adds something to the mix we haven’t seen since Life is Beautiful. Understanding the motivation of director Roman Polanski makes the film special, as we see through the eyes of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was gracefully playing Chopin on a Warsaw radio station when the first German bombs fell. We listen from his ears, we at least begin to understand his sorrow and the hardship he faced, and the true story element may still make this film a winner yet. Szpilman’s survival of the Holocaust is touching, and just as his anguished memories never went away, neither should the memory of this film.

Best Actor

Gonna Win: Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Michael Caine (The Quiet American) give powerful performances in their respective films, but their subtle dispositions will not stand out as the best acting of the year. Nicholas Cage’s customary eccentric spirit, though impressive as he plays two roles in the film (conflict-ridden twin screenwriters), is not quite as powerful as Daniel Day Lewis (Gangs) or Jack Nicholson (Schmidt). Both of these actors undoubtedly carry their works, but Academy-favorite Nicholson is an almost sure lock on the award, and will win it. He plays a 66-year old man coming to terms with the reality of his own aging and of his own family problems, all the while trying to figure out the meaning of his life. The commanding performance is at times moving, at times amusing, but is at all times masterful.

Should Win: Nicholson is not going to win just because he is truly loved by the Academy voters; he will win because he puts every aspect of himself into the role, much like in One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest and As Good As it Gets, for which he also won.

Best Actress

Gonna Win: Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman find themselves competing for the second consecutive year, but neither name will be announced on Oscar night They each happened to be part of impressive ensemble casts, making it difficult for them to stand out. Meanwhile, the real race will be between Diane Lane (Unfaithful) and Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven), with Moore barely winning it. She plays a housewife in the 1950s whose seemingly perfect life spins wildly out of control, portraying the character with precision and the appropriate amount of passion for each situation.

Should win: Julianne Moore stands out.

Best Director

Gonna Win: Martin Scorcese, making it the first time in four nominations. Peter Jackson and Rob Marshall directed films whose grandeur was displayed with special effects and stunning choreography. The precise and obsessive nature of Scorcese, combined with an acute sense of style and foresight, makes the war-ridden Gangs of New York refined.

Should Win: Roman Polanski should win for the way he blends his direction with his main character’s point of view, and for the manner in which he allows us to begin to understand the terrors of the Holocaust, much like Benigni and Spielberg did in their famous films on the same topic.

Best Supporting People

Gonna Win: For the men, Chris Cooper will win the honor, as he is outstanding and charismatic playing fanatic John Laroche in the unconventional yet compelling Adaptation. For the women, the real race is between Meryl Streep and Kathy Bates. Though Streep has always been an Academy favorite, Kathy Bates’ role in About Schmidt was beyond impressive.

Should Win: Christopher Walken as the poignant and conflicted father of conman Frank Abignale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can and Kathy Bates for About Schmidt. — AK

Best Picture

Gonna Win- Chicago. It used to be that the light entertainment always lost out to the ‘serious message movie.’ For the past five years however, the opposite has been the case and no other movie has built up the buzz and the unanimous raves of the Kander & Ebb creation. The Hours had all the markings of Oscar bait, but tepid reviews have sucked all the momentum out of it. Gangs of New York is too bloody, too long and has been garnering mixed reviews (you either loved it or wanted the three hours of your life back). The Pianist is directed by Roman Polanksi. The Academy will never give an award to Polanski.

Should Win: How, exactly, do you discuss the unspeakable? The Holocaust film has become a minor genre over the last 10 years. There’s almost a liturgy to the proceedings now: invasion, restrictions, the star, the ghetto, the atrocities, the train, the camp, the liberation. And that’s a lie. What Polanski knows is that every tale of survival is essentially a falsehood because for most people there was no salvation. So he made The Pianist, where there’s a scene when the main character is asked what he will do after the war. “Play the piano for polish radio,” he says. It’s black humor, to be sure, but no less absurd an answer than saying, ‘get married, go to America, believe in humanity, live with myself’ would have been. What, exactly could he have said that would not have been ridiculous? Polanski knows there’s no answer, which is why this is the best film of the year.

Best Director

Gonna Win: Martin Scorcese. This man should probably own about 4 of the little gold guys. He doesn’t have any. He’s getting old. Gangs had its problems to be sure, but it was the gutsy, great filmmaking of which Scorcese is the patron saint. Both he, and his closest competitor, Rob Marshall, are the kind of directors who legitimate auteur theory. They had the vision –literally. They saw how the idea could look, could work, on screen and made it happen. Almovar was included as a nod to his talent, overlooked by his own country, Polanski will never win, and Daldry doesn’t deserve to.

Should Win: Actually, I can’t call this one. I think Scorcese was brilliant in everything he shot, I just wish he’d shot a bit less of it. Marshall was given the Herculean task of translating a musical to the screen and made a smoky, cheerfully cynical sing a long which pretty much rocked. Polanski was Polanski. Any of these guys get it, and justice is done.

Best Actor

Gonna Win: Jack Nicholson. Day-Lewis may yet pull off a groundswell, or he and Jack will split the vote enough for Adrien Brody to slip through. But Nicholson gave the kind of vulnerable performance people like to award. Also, if he wins, we get to see him raise those eyebrows.

Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis managed, with loud checkered pants, ur- NewYorkese and a killer’s slink, to single handedly keep an immense epic afloat. His Bill was mesmerizing. You couldn’t look away, not even when you wanted to, which, after all, was the point.

Best Actress

Gonna Win: This is the most fractured race, but Nicole Kidman dyed her hair, put on a fake nose, kissed a girl and offed herself. She was also pretty great while doing all of the above. That should be enough. Not enough people have seen Moore’s remarkable turn, Zellweger was the weakest link in her film, and Hayek and Lane haven’t even been mentioned in the same breath with the first three .

Should Win:
Julianne Moore. Far From Heaven. Moore gave a performance at once bravura and naturalistic, taking her character and ripping off the lacquered finish to reveal a real person.

Best Supporting People

Gonna Win: Julianne Moore and Chris Cooper. Moore gets the consolation prize. Playing the embodiment of a life affirming force to a buttoned up member of the opposite sex is always good for a nomination. Do it as well as Cooper, and it’s good for a win. Chicago’s supporting cast (the best part of the movie) has been overshadowed by the push for Zellweger, and Bates’s skin has been mentioned more often than her performance. Meryl Streep is now in the unenviable position of being so good as to be taken for granted. Newman’s turn was riveting, it wasn’t the type of self-reflexive one the Academy awards older performers for. Ed Harris overacted his scenes and Reily didn’t have enough of his own. Then again, this category saw last year’s biggest upset.

Should Win: Catherine Zeta Jones was the embodiment of the spirit of Chicago — sass and talent and viciousness all wrapped up in the kelig light allure of showbiz. Christopher Walken’s two-bit hustler of a father was alternately pathetic and charming. Just like a good con should be. — ES

Archived article by Erica Stein